What You Should Know About Swimming with Your Dog
Published August 11, 2022
Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian
Summer is the time when you’re most likely to splash into a pool, lake, or pond with friends, family… and maybe even your dog. After all, on a hot day, how can you exclude your furry best friend?
But as a dog parent, you may be wondering if you need to teach your dog anything in particular before they swim. If they love water, is swimming natural for them? If they hate water, should you bother trying to acclimate them to it? Can dogs go in pools?
Let’s take a deeper look at those questions.
Can Dogs Go in Pools if They Can Swim?
The short answer to this one is yes. If a dog is able to swim, it is generally perfectly safe for them to swim in the pool with you, provided, of course, that the chemicals in the pool are properly balanced. This is true whether your pool is chlorinated or saltwater-based.
However, if you do let your dog in or even just around your pool, make sure of two things:
- Don’t let your dog drink pool water. Just like for humans, pool water is not safe to drink. A swallow or two? No big deal. But if you see your pooch lapping it up, definitely correct her.
- Show your dog where the pool exits are. It is a very important safety precaution. We’ll delve into this more later.
What if you don’t have your own pool – can dogs go in pools open to the public? Unfortunately, the answer is most likely no. While there may be exceptions, the vast majority of pools open to the public will not let you swim with your pup.
Yes, It’s Worth Teaching Your Dog to Swim
The reality is that at some point, your dog may find herself in a body of water – whether on purpose or not. Things will fare better if they have some level of comfort with water and swimming. They’ll panic less.
On the more fun side, it’s just another way to bond with your pup. If you bring your dog along to summer picnics by the lake or pool parties, it will also help you feel confident in your dog’s safety when you’re around water together.
Plus, water activities will provide more options for your dog to stay cool in the summer heat!
So, how exactly do you teach a dog to swim?
Don’t Rush It
Have you ever been given the advice “sink or swim”? This definitely should not be applied when training your dog to swim.
Contrary to popular belief, swimming is not natural for all dogs. Never throw your dog into water without warning, expecting he’ll figure it out. This could instill a phobia of water in a dog who otherwise might have enjoyed it.
In fact, some dog breeds are physically averse to swimming. Just think about the shape of an English Bulldog or a Dachshund – they would both struggle to stay above water.
Instead, take a gradual approach:
- If your dog loves water – Create special commands to direct them to get in or out of water. This will help you stay in control. Otherwise, they may jump into any body of water in sight – regardless of safety, cleanliness, or appropriate circumstances.
- If your dog hates water – Acclimate them to it in very small steps. Seriously small – start with just a stream of water. Gradually introduce water to sensitive areas like the pads of their feet, their tail, and their face. Use high-value treats that will motivate them through the discomfort. They don’t ever have to love it, but it is safer for them to feel neutral about water. A nice bonus: this will make bath time easier!
- If your dog is in-between – It’s still worth teaching your pet in steps. Make water playtime fun and light-hearted, coupled with clear commands.
Safety First: Flotation Devices
Most dog parents would be well-advised to invest in a doggie life jacket. Even if your dog loves to swim, a life jacket will save them if they ever get into trouble. Many hazards can pop up in the water, like strong currents, wild animals, plant life, and more.
Look for a life jacket that is:
- Adjustable, so it can fit snugly to your pup
- Brightly colored for visibility
- Sporting a handle to grab your dog out of the water, if necessary, and/or a ring for a leash
You may actually need to put your dog in the life jacket and test your ability to lift them with the handle.
Dogs don’t naturally know how to get out of a body of water, this has led to dog drownings in swimming pools. Your dog should never be allowed unsupervised access to a pool.
So, especially if you have a pool, get in the water with your pup, and show her how to exit. Use the pool stairs or climb a slope out of a pool or lake. Do this several times over days, weeks, or months if necessary. You want to imprint this in your pup’s memory for their safety. It takes on average 150 repetitions for a dog to learn a command.
Check Water Temperature
Lastly, we’ll add that dogs can suffer from a condition called “cold tail,” “limber tail,” or “swimmer’s tail.” Basically, if they swim in water that’s too cold, they may develop this condition which causes extreme pain in the base of the tail, usually about 24 hours after the activity. Fortunately, should it occur, swimmer’s tail is easily treated with a short course of anti-inflammatories from your veterinarian. A good rule of thumb is avoid cold weather: if the air temperature plus the water temperature equals at least 100, your dog should be good to go.
Now for the Fun!
Okay, you did the work of shopping for the perfect life jacket, teaching your dog to swim, and training him to behave around water. Now, go out there and swim away your summer! Knowing that you and your pup can swim safely will really let you relax and enjoy the water with your best friend.
If you notice swimmer’s tail or anything else unusual about your pup after a swim, don’t hesitate to seek your veterinarian’s advice. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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